On Tuesday, March 7th, a biologist at Yellowstone National Park spotted the first grizzly bear of 2023 (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/23006.htm ).
I was elated! Spring is coming! To me, a bear awakening from hibernation is more of a sign of the upcoming warmth, beach visits, and drinks on the deck than any advice given or taken by a shadow-seeking rodent. That was my first thought. My second, being an ever-curious person was… what do I actually know about bears? Thanks to certain animated depictions, I know that they like picnic baskets and honey. I know that you have a high likelihood of being on the receiving end of their claws if you get too close to their babies. I know that if you are being chased by a bear and need to escape, you have two options- lay down and play dead or outrun the person next to you (probably not the best choice). I also know that being an urban dweller who despises camping, my knowledge of bears is limited at best, but even more likely, seriously incorrect. So, I decided to consult the oracle.
A few taps of the keyboard later, I discover how little I truly know about bears.
Bears are most active from dawn to dusk. In areas populated or visited by large numbers of humans, bears will choose to become nocturnal to avoid any possible interactions with intruding humans.
Bear behavior is more predictable than human behavior.
Bears share common characteristics with humans. They are not mean or malicious, they are quite gentle and exceptionally tolerant of others. They are devoted, strict, loving, and protective of their young. They have a certain place they call home, and will not attack unless provoked by fear, or when their food source is threatened. Bears are empathetic, fun-loving, jolly, and social yet shy creatures.
Bears weigh more than football players or sumo wrestlers and have the curiosity and energy of preschoolers. Yet, they have the incredible adaptive ability to hunker down for months on end, without food, water, or interaction.
Bears, and their hibernation, have become a major source of study for scientists around the world. Scientists are working to find how bears (and other animals) make the necessary adaptations to hibernate, and the reasons for it. By studying bears, they believe it will give them the knowledge that may be able to transfer to other larger mammals, specifically us humans.
Bears can adjust their hibernation methods, and way of life, in correlation to the change in the climate they are live.
Bears can go into the den and it’s like they turn off their switch of life for months. Unlike humans confined to a bed or in space, bears can turn off the degenerative genes so when they awake their bones are in the same condition as they were in when they settled down months prior.
A mother bear can nurse, using her fat stores to help her young and still emerge healthy at the end of hibernation.
Bears are able to live like we see humans do in science fiction movies, in a state of suspended animation. They are able to slow their metabolism to a crawl, decreasing blood flow and enabling them to live temperature controlled, without food or water, and with limited oxygen. Learning about how this resting animal is able to accomplish such an amazing adaptation will have a long-term impact on human existence. It could someday affect where we are able to travel to in space and have a more immediate impact on how we treat and/or save people undergoing medical emergencies such as strokes, heart attacks, spinal injuries, diseases and more.
It will be amazing when scientists are able to harness the power of hibernation! Imagine to frontiers we will be able to visit and the number of people that will be saved from death or worse. It will be life-changing!
Until then, we do not have the adaptive powers of a bear and our bodies are not capable of hibernation. So, what can we do to help us come even close? What can we do to have a better immune system, or improve our metabolism or increase our mood and our level of concentration? We can make sure to get some rest. We can disconnect from electronics, social media, the world, and even our responsibilities for a bit. We can close our eyes and let our bodies do the amazing things that it is capable of doing for us now, healing and restoring us.
Try following the advice of our Ursidae friends and make sure to rest. Just maybe you will be the one to make a difference in how we live or save a life. At the very least you will awake refreshed, and restored and ready to take on the day!